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Ard Bia: Review by John McKenna

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

5.5.4.

That's always a smart line-up in a restaurant – five starters; fine mains; four puds, and a cheeseboard on the bench as the substitute.
Put this line up on a single sheet, dot it with smart mantras – “Let's connect, and turn off our phones”; “Love Food: Hate Waste”, “Proceeds from still or sparking water will be donated to the Number 4 project...” and there is only one place in Ireland you could be: Ard Bia, at Nimmo's, at Spanish Arch, in Galway city.
Ard Bia's owner, Aoibheann McNamara, has always managed to cook the right stew of food, wine, polemic, politics, art and good sense in this ancient little building, right on the banks of the River Corrib. It's not easy to get this balancing act right, but what gets Ard Bia home with gas in the tank has always been it's superb staff. Our waiter, a tattooed Canadian dude, seems to know everything from the genesis of Pecorino wine to the name of Justin Trudeau's dog. He's a happy camper, and when the food begins to arrive to our table for four, it's easy to see why he is happy: he is serving us some of the sharpest cooking on the West Coast.
Everything we eat is good – semi-cured salmon; Athenry trout; Brady's striploin; pork cheek with cauliflower purée; blackberry cake. But to get perspective on the finesse of this cooking, let's take one of the main courses: roast squash; barley risotto; wild mushrooms; Clare Farm goat cheese.
That line-up of ingredients is a recipe for disaster. It's a starch fest. Get it wrong, and the recipient will have lost interest after just three forkfuls.
But tonight, on a busy Sunday evening, the dish is an ethereal masterpiece, offering subtle contrasts, vividly delivered flavours, and serene satisfaction after every last grain of barley has been wiped up. The kitchen that cooked this dish is pumped up, capable of taking simple ingredients and fashioning a little autumnal marvel.
The barley risotto stood out, but only because it is such a difficult dish to get right. But our 4. 4. 4. from the 5.5.4. were all terrific dishes, lovingly cooked.
All this, and Justin Trudeau vanquished the boorish Stephen Harper in the general election in Canada.
A great Sunday evening in a great Galway restaurant.

Ard Bia at Nimmos, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, T: (091) 561114 www.ardbia.com

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